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Australian Naval Ship to Deliver Relief Supplies to Tonga Despite COVID-19 Outbreak


This handout photo released courtesy of Tonga's Minister for Trade and Economic Development on Jan. 20, 2022 shows destruction along the western beaches of Tonga's main island of Tongatapu.

An Australian naval ship is set to arrive in Tonga Wednesday with critical relief supplies for disaster-struck Tonga despite an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among its crew.

Australian defense officials say 23 sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide have tested positive since leaving Brisbane last Friday en route to the remote Pacific island nation. The infected sailors are currently in quarantine aboard the ship and are not showing any severe symptoms.

Saia Piukala, Tonga’s health minister, said the HMAS Adelaide will unload its cargo and leave soon after, without making contact with anyone on the island. The 23 infected sailors are currently in quarantine aboard the ship

Tonga has largely been spared from the COVID-19 pandemic, posting only one infection during the entire time, and authorities are worried that relief workers from overseas will bring the disease into the island and its 106,000 residents.

The island nation was devastated in the January 15 eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano, located about 64 kilometers north of the capital, Nuku’alofa, followed by a tsunami that washed away entire villages. The volcanic ash produced by the eruption turned the air toxic and contaminated the island’s fresh drinking water. Three people in Tonga were killed in the disaster.

The eruption and tsunami also severely damaged the single undersea fiber-optic cable that provides phone and internet service to the island. Operators say repairs to the cable could take anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the extent of the damage.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse.

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